William Crocket was the son of a stone wall builder. Crocket attended school in his home town of Brechin, Scotland, and matriculated at King’s College, Aberdeen, at age sixteen. For some time, he alternated between taking college courses and teaching school near his parents’ home. In 1853 he enrolled in the two-year teacher training course at the Established Church Normal Seminary in Glasgow. He completed the requirements in two one-year stints, separated by another year of teaching in the vicinity of his home.
In 1856 Crocket came to New Brunswick as principal of the superior school at Campbellton, bringing excellent letters of reference from both the Glasgow Normal school and persons familiar with his teaching record. In five years at Campbellton he gained a reputation second to none as an educator and was therefore eagerly drafted in 1861 as rector, or principal, of the new Presbyterian Academy in Chatham. Built and equipped by the Highland Society, the academy was a ‘superior’ school by provincial classification, but it was on par and competitive with the County Grammar School, which was still perceived to be under the control of the Anglican church.
Provincial authorities looked with much favour on the Presbyterian Academy, which they considered to be unsurpassed “for good discipline, effective drilling, and thorough mental and moral training.” Some of the students felt equally positive about it, if not necessarily for the same reasons. Andrew Brown, for example, attributed his “literary and classical tastes” to the superior quality of the instruction which he received at the academy, and Prof. J. Frederick McCurdy never tired of praising Crocket’s “great ability and insight” as a teacher.
It was not surprising that the academy was chosen as the school in which to conduct a teacher training program to help meet the demand for more licensed teachers in the northern counties of New Brunswick. Crocket had been trained in one of the leading Normal schools of the time, and the academy was an ideal ‘model school’ in which to demonstrate instructional techniques to trainees. Candidates were first admitted in 1867, and over the next three years 135 teachers were certified. The program was not intended to be a permanent one, and after 1870, would-be teachers were again required to attend at Fredericton. They still came under Crocket’s influence, however, because he was engaged in 1870 as principal of the Provincial Normal School and head of teacher training for New Brunswick. He was succeeded at the Presbyterian Academy by Crawford M. Hutchison.
William Crocket was principal of the Normal School from 1870 to 1883, chief superintendent of education for New Brunswick from 1883 to 1891, classics master at Morrin College in Quebec City between 1891 and 1902, and principal of the Normal School again from 1902 until 1906, when he retired. He was one of the framers of the Common Schools Act of 1871 and arguably the most influential educator in the province in the 1870s and early 80s. For many years he was an examiner of students for degrees at the University of New Brunswick, which honored him with an MA in 1865 and an LLD in 1900.
William Crocket and his wife, Marion Caldwell, were the parents of eight sons and three daughters, several of whom were born in Chatham, and some of whose careers were almost as remarkable as their father’s. Their son James H. Crocket was the last publisher of the Chatham Gleaner, which he re-established in Fredericton in 1884 as the York Gleaner and transformed in 1889 into The Daily Gleaner. Charles S. O. Crocket was in the same field, being the founder and publisher of the Campbellton Tribune. Two of the younger sons, William C. Crocket and A. Pierce Crocket, were physicians in Fredericton, while Oswald S. Crocket was a Fredericton lawyer and MP who was later appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Dr. Crocket engaged Saint John architect, G. Ernest Fairweather, to design this house. Mr. Fairweather drew the plans for the UNB Engineering Building, completed in 1901, and the UNB Gymnasium, completed in 1904, later serving as Architect for the Public Works Department; Fairweather would also design renovations to the Provincial Normal School in 1913.
The Crocket family occupied this house at 171 Church Street in Fredericton until the early 1940s, and in 1944, it was rented by the Provincial Government for use as office space for newly established ministries. The interior boasts one of the City’s most stunning stained glass windows: a fanciful “summer” scene depicting a maiden surrounded by cherubs.
Resource: Provincial Archives of New Brunswick
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